In 2017 the postman delivered a promo pack for my Blackout Radio Show, Fuchsia‘s double single ‘Song’ and Sidewalk Society’s album “Strange Roads: The Songs Of Rolled Gold“.
Fuchsia’s first album was released in 1971, and it is widely regarded as one of the best examples of the prog folk scene of the 1970s. It has been hailed by Mojo Magazine as a “forgotten classic” and is regularly republished.
“Strange Roads: The Songs Of Rolled Gold” was a more bizarre case because Sidewalk Society is a trio from Long Beach, CA that took to the task to re-record the entire album of “Rolled Gold”, an album of the 60’s English mod band, The Action.
The sender of the package was the English label, Fruits de Mer Records and when I kept receiving more of their wonderful releases, such as the triple album “Three Of A Kind” on which Polish multi-instrumentalist Kris Gietkowski re-recorded the first albums of Atomic Rooster, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Egg, I told myself “there’s something’s going on here”.
After a few more awesome recordings such as Sendelica’s 3×10” “Cromlech Chronicles III“, the triple compilation for the celebration of the first 10 years of the label, Moon Goose’s album “Source Code” and many more, I asked Keith Jones, the man behind the Fruits de Mer Records, for an interview and he was kind enough to take some time and talk about the “Fruits of the Sea”.
You founded Fruits de Mer Records with Andy Bracken in 2008. Andy was operating Bracken Records but did you have any previous experience with any record label?
None at all! I only got involved with Fruits de Mer because Andy was a mate and we had an idea for a label that released classic and long-lost tracks from the 60s/early 70s on vinyl and he wanted someone to share the pain!
After Andy left Fruits de Mer Records in 2012, I guess it must have been difficult for you in the beginning. How did you manage to continue with the label?
Yes, Andy had already spent a few years running Bracken and had taken things as far as he really wanted to. I was just warming up – and had retired from the real world – so taking on the running of FdM was perfect timing for me; I couldn’t have done it without being able to call on some key people – Nick Leese at Heyday Mail Order, producer Fran Ashcroft and the people at the Record Industry pressing plant and Clear Spot Distribution; but most of all, the people who found FdM through Andy and Bracken stuck with the label – it only works if people actually want to buy the records.
What is the mission of Fruits de Mer?
To release records that I’d buy myself if I saw them, to share some great music and artists that might otherwise be missed, to have some fun and hope other people who are music obsessives pick up on it.
Why only vinyl releases and how many have you put out so far? Lately, there is a feeling that the market for vinyl records is doing a come-back. Is it true? Are you a record collector yourself?
Actually, I’m releasing more and more on CD – I’m starting to feel nostalgic for CDs already! Vinyl always comes first, but CDs are an excellent way to share and store a lot of music cheaply and it’s possible to recreate some of the physical/tactile aspects of vinyl – they’re a second-best of course, but they do mean something, unlike downloads.
I’m not sure how many releases there have been in total – around 150 on vinyl?
I think the vinyl revival has been seriously overhyped – we launched FdM when vinyl was dead in the water, just because we loved the look, feel and sound of vinyl; it then became a fad a few years ago…collecting for the sake of it – fed by Record Store Day and major label reissues – it’s all calming down again now, people buying records for the music.
And yes, I’ve been collecting records for 50+ years – I’ve got rather a lot of CDs too!
Which are the 5 non Fruits de Mer releases that you would take with you to a desert island?
Every day a different choice – but today: The Pretty Things’ ‘SF Sorrow’, Led Zeppelin IV, Pete Namlook & Richie Hawtin’s ‘From Within, Jethro Tull’s ‘Thick As A Brick’ and a very large Sandy Denny box-set.
Fruits De Mer Records has several imprint labels, including Regal Crabomophone, Strange Fish, Friends Of The Fish, Head Cleaner and Tiny. What is the difference between them?
We set up ‘Regal Crabomophone’ to release a single by The Chemistry Set that included a newly-written song, so it became the home for releases that include tracks that aren’t covers.
‘Strange Fish’ is for the more ‘out there’/experimental releases (I didn’t want people who liked to collect everything on FdM to feel they had to buy releases that didn’t necessarily match our psych/prog/acid-folk/krautrock slogan).
“Friends of the Fish” is a bit of a catch-all…for limited-run lathe-cut releases (usually produced as specials for gigs), some CD compilations and for records that artists self-release but I like enough to want to help on the promotion side).
‘Head Cleaner’ was a one-off for a Cranium Pie double cassette and ‘Tiny’ is home to (so far) three 5” lathe-cut singles.
It’s all got pretty confusing – but I like to think that just adds to the fun (that’s my excuse, anyway)
I think the big difference is that music meant so much more, to so many more, in the 60s/70s, when I was growing up; it meant everything – owning records, seeing bands, arguing who was the best, reading the music mags…now it‘s a niche thing, a background to other stuff, it doesn’t matter in the way it once did.
Some of your releases are sold out before they are even released. How does this happen? Is there a members club that are lucky enough to put their hands on your releases first? How can one become member of this club?
The least interesting thing about running a record label is packing and posting records! I’m not trying to make money out of FdM, I’m trying to have fun – I’d sooner sell out and move onto the next release than spent weeks/months pushing the back-catalogue (although I do that as well!). The members club is free to join and there are no commitments to buy future releases, but it’s really there for people who like most of what we do, who want to get their orders in early and can cope with lots of irritating emails from me; there’s a longer email list for people who just want to dip in and out – I try to explain it on the FdM website!
Every year Fruits de Mer releases a double album recorded on previous year’s Dream of Dr. Sardonicus, a festival in which exquisite names of the scene appear. The 17th will be released in late July and it’s already sold out. Can you give us some information regarding the Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus Festivals that you organize every year?
It’s really organised by Pete Bingham from Sendelica – I just help with spreading the word, running a stall at the venue (The Cellar Bar in Cardigan) and pulling together the almost-legendary FdM goodie-bags – free to everyone attending. It’s got a life of its own – it’s become a gathering of the friends of the label – small, relaxed, a bit scruffy but very friendly (a bit like me), with some mazing bands agreeing to play, such as The Bevis Frond, Groundhogs, The Chemistry Set, Vibravoid and, of course, Sendelica. This year, Man were due to headline – but the virus has meant we’ve had to skip a year – we’ll be back in 2021!
Are the artists free to choose which songs to cover for compilations like “Goldfish – Fruits De Mer Records 10 years on vinyl” or “The Three Seasons – The Spring, Summer And Autumn Of Love”?
With ‘Goldfish’, that was a personal selection of some of my favourite recordings from the first 10 years of the label, but usually the artists come up with the tracks – sometimes I’ve suggested a ‘theme’ for a project and sometimes with artists I’ve known for a while I might subtly suggest specific songs – The Honey Pot are a bit like the FdM house band, they have been willing to take on some of the wilfully obscure tracks from the 60s I’ve thrown at them!
Which ‘60s psychedelic artist or band do you think is the most underrated and why?
The Pretty Things. Not just for ‘SF Sorrow’, ‘Parachute’ is a remarkable LP too. But they started as an R&B band and they came back to those blues roots in recent years, they were brilliant live and Phil May, who died earlier this year, became one of the best lead singers the UK has ever seen and heard.
Did Covid-19 made things more difficult for your label?
It put the mockers on our summer festival and I’ve had to delay everything by about three months and cut back on pressings – but if that’s all I’ve got to worry about this year I’ve been bloody lucky.
Is there a new psychedelic or prog scene in the UK?
Not that I’ve noticed. For there to be a scene, there needs to be lots of psych/prog bands playing live regularly and lots of venues that welcome new psych/prog bands – I’ve not seen either; sadly, the number of venues seems to be declining steadily and the ones that are hanging on can get a bigger audience for a Bowie/Bolan impersonator than for a new band.
What’s next on your list for Fruits de Mer Records? What plans do you have?
We’ll be making up for lost time for the rest of 2020 – in the autumn there’ll be a big Sendelica retrospective, another fundraising project for Cardigan’s Cellar Bar and a couple of return visits to what is probably my favourite genre of music – krautrock…and quite a bit more!
Thank you very much for this interview